5 ways retailers can prepare for the 2021 holiday shopping season

By Brett Dorsey | Senior Solutions Architect

The 2021 holiday shopping season promises both challenges and opportunities for retailers. Consumers are returning to stores, and they’re eager to spend. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to rise between 8.5% and 10.5%, an all-time high. However, this surge in demand comes as retailers are vexed by staffing shortages and global supply chain disruptions.

Advance planning is essential for retailers to navigate the coming weeks to ensure a prosperous holiday selling season. Here are 5 tips to set your stores up for success:

1. Meet consumers wherever they want to shop

While 58% of U.S. consumers state they intend to do more online shopping this year, 70% plan on buying the majority of what they need in-store. This means omnichannel is the name of the game. Prepare your brick-and-mortar store–and your ecommerce site–for the oncoming rush. Here are a few ideas.

  • Combat “search abandonment” and bestow your ecommerce site and mobile app with Google-quality search capabilities. Retail Search leverages machine learning to analyze customer activity across websites and mobile apps, then map customer intent to product inventory. Retailers can customize search experiences to meet their business needs, including auto-suggestions, personalized results, and relevant promotions.
  • Use Google Pay to offer customers seamless payment options across your selling channels. Google Pay makes the online buying process faster and easier by letting customers make transactions with payment tokens from their Google Pay app and payment cards from their Google Account. In-store, associates can use Google Pay-enabled Chrome devices to look up items and take contactless payment in the same way. The simple Google Pay API helps you get up and running quickly.
  • Retailers can also use Chromebooks to create digital signage for brick-and-mortar locations. In addition to informing customers of sales and promotions, these signs can display directions on how to take advantage of delivery options, contactless payment, and more.
  • Use Google Drive as a centralized location to store marketing, product, and inventory information, and automatically push updates out to your website, mobile app, in-store digital signage, and handheld devices used by in-store staff. Employees can share documents, images, and other digital assets easily, securely, and with the assurance that everyone is always accessing the most up-to-date version.

2. Offer diverse delivery and fulfillment options

In addition to meeting customers where they want to buy, retailers must provide consumers with the delivery and fulfillment choices they’ve come to expect. During the pandemic, consumers became accustomed to services such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside pick up, and same-day local delivery. The Google Maps Platform APIs streamline this process:

  • Use the Place Autocomplete API to give customers faster and more accurate address entry of their home location during the checkout process.
  • Combine the Geocoding API, the Distance Matrix API, and the Google Maps APIs for JavaScript, Android, and iOS to identify the closest pick up location to the customer and display it to them on a map.
  • The Directions API enhances the map, with turn-by-turn directions to the pick up location, complete with real-time traffic information. Meanwhile, the Distance Matrix API enables in-store fulfillment staff to estimate the customer’s arrival time and have their order ready for pickup.
  • Offering local delivery? Use Google Maps coordinates to route delivery requests to the nearest driver, then track driver location and real-time traffic information to keep apprised of delays–or even suggest an alternative route to the driver. Meanwhile, use a customer-facing app to let your customers track the status of their deliveries in real-time.

3. Stay ahead of supply chain snags and keep customers informed

While product shortages can’t be completely avoided this season, by accurately estimating customer demand, retailers can minimize stockouts–and avoid excess inventory. Using Google Cloud’s AI/ML solutions, such as BigQuery ML, analysts can use basic SQL to develop custom models with their own data points, forecast product demand, and gain a better understanding of how their merchandise is moving across channels. These models can be fine-tuned on a location-by-location basis using Google’s extensive library of public datasets, including weather information, traffic data, COVID-19 tracking, and more.

Retailers have no control over how quickly container ships are unloaded, but they can keep customers apprised of stockouts and delivery times. Using the geolocation feature on Google Maps Platform, retailers can display estimated delivery times for each product before an online shopper adds it to their cart, then provide real-time delivery tracking once the order is in process.

4. Personalization, personalization, personalization

Differentiate your brand with highly personalized shopping experiences, both online and in-store. In today’s world, APIs connect retail applications, web, and mobile apps, along with social and other channels so customers can enjoy seamless and personalized experiences. Apigee provides a comprehensive end-to-end API Management Platform that allows retailers to connect with their customers and partners and empower their developers to quickly build integrated apps.

Additionally, developers can use Google’s AI Building Blocks to integrate sight, language, conversation, and structured data into their applications. For example, developers can use Vision Product Search and Recommendations AI to improve product recommendations for both first-time visitors and loyal customers.

Using a combination of BigQuery and Google Analytics 360, retailers can perform granular and complex querying of unsampled information, including clickstream and web metrics data, and use it to adjust user recommendations and SEO. They can also combine Analytics 360 data with other first-party data, such as point-of-sale information housed in BigQuery, to gain insight into cart conversion rates, coupon code usage, and other factors that impact the sales funnel.

In addition to improving the shopping experience, this 360˚ view enables retailers to more effectively personalize communications like email and ads and create highly targeted marketing campaigns based on real-time insights.

5. Deliver superior customer service at scale

Thanks to Google’s AI tools, staffing shortages don’t have to translate into poor customer service. Google’s Rapid Response Virtual Agent enables retailers to deploy chatbots within two weeks. These virtual agents, which can work over chat, voice, and social channels, converse naturally with customers and answer simple inquiries, such as questions about store hours, order status, and pickup options, allowing human customer service agents to focus on complex cases,therefore minimizing customer wait times.

Retailers who want even more functionality and operational efficiency can deploy Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI, which enables virtual agent chatbots to not only converse with customers but also assist human agents with complex inquiries. When a virtual agent can’t solve a customer problem on its own, it seamlessly connects the customer to a human agent, then uses natural language recognition to determine customer intent and provide the agent with real-time, step-by-step assistance.

Let SADA help you prepare for the holiday shopping season

SADA understands the complexities of the retail industry. We have a long track record of helping retailers harness the power of Google Cloud to increase agility, reduce costs, and deliver world-class, omnichannel shopping experiences that drive top-line growth. 

As an award-winning Google Cloud Partner with Specializations, SADA’s deep industry expertise will amplify your cloud journey and maximize your Google Cloud investment by helping you: 

  • Securely store, integrate, and put your data to use
  • Use smart analytics to distill actionable insights from large data sets
  • Inform your decision-making with AI and machine learning
  • Securely share data to enhance collaboration and better serve customers
  • Rapidly build and deploy new tools to deliver seamless omnichannel shopping experiences

Customer Success: Northgate Market delivers a superior in-store experience with data-driven insights.

Learn how SADA enabled this retailer to transform into a data-driven organization.
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